Staff Sgt. Orion N. Sparks was looking forward to moving home near Gig Harbor in February, his mother said.
The 29-year-old was on his third deployment when he and another soldier were killed Wednesday by shrapnel from a bomb in Pul-E Alam, in eastern Afghanistan.
Sparks, who was raised in Gig Harbor, was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team at Schweinfurt, Germany.
Also killed in the attack was Sgt. Jonathan A. Gollnitz, 28, of Fredonia, N.Y. A Department of Defense news release Friday said the soldiers died from “injuries suffered when an insurgent wearing a suicide vest detonated the device near their patrol.”
Sparks joined the Army in 2003 at age 19 and had deployed twice to Iraq before this deployment.
He was born at Tacoma General Hospital and lived most of his life in Gig Harbor, attending Peninsula High School and later earning his GED. In 2002, he went to stay with his father, Garry, who lives in Tucson, Ariz.
“He’s a doer, not a studier,” Jan Hurnblad Sparks said of her son. “He really had to work at his studies.”
He had been studying Indonesian, a skill he had hoped would make it possible for him to transfer to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his mother said. When he learned the move wasn’t an option, he made plans to leave the Army in February.
“He wanted to come home, and if he had to get out of the Army to come home, that’s what he was going to do,” his mother said, adding that Sparks loved Washington. “If they would station him at Fort Lewis, then he would stay in.”
She said Orion Sparks and his brothers Erik, 31, and Zack, 26, had been planning his return for a couple of years. Sparks was also looking forward to getting to know Erik’s 4-year-old son, Alex.
“They wanted to buy some property, they all thought about jobs,” she said. “But they’re also snowboarders. All three of them enjoy the outdoors, camping, hiking.”
Sparks was dubbed the “gentle giant” by his Army peers, his mother said; He stood at about 6 feet, 6 inches.
“They said that he had an infectious smile,” she said. “He was always optimistic. He would do anything he could for anybody there. And he was a leader.”